How did I not know about this place!?! Why didn’t anyone tell me!?! These were my first two thoughts upon arriving at Tavlin in Bellmore.
Tavlin is to the foodie what a candy store is to a kid. It is a mini-F.A.O. Schwartz of Mediterranean food. It is an oasis for the vegetarian or vegan. It is a journey to the Middle East without the airfare (or the drive to Brooklyn). In short, Tavlin, which means “spice” in Hebrew, is an answer (perhaps a call) to food lovers’ prayers. And somehow, I had no idea that it’s been right on Merrick Road in Bellmore, just 10 GPS minutes from my house, for 31 years.
Cross the threshold of Tavlin into a Mediterranean market. The fragrances of baking, spices like zaátar and cumin, buckets of olives, mingle together like an embrace. The walls are lined with colorful cans and boxes of teas, coffees, and mixes, jars of dates, dried fruits and nuts, some covered in chocolate. Flatbreads dusted with spice; halvah; baklava; and more homemade cookies wink from the shelves. A blackboard signals a variety of Mediterranean cheeses. And as I run the gauntlet of so many things I want to sample, I find the refrigerated cases full of soups, borekas (stuffed puff pastries), salads, and spreads, made in-house and ready to heat up at home. Or, if you can’t wait (and who can wait?), they’ll heat one up for you right there.
What heaven is this?
If it sounds like love, well, it is. Tavlin started as a love story. Marc “Motty” Azoulay was 17, a Moroccan-born, French teenager living on a kibbutz in Israel. Sarah Stoll was from Manhasset HIlls, spending part of the 12th grade on the same kibbutz. By the time she returned to Long Island, he was packing his bags to follow.
“We didn’t have a plan,” says Sarah. “We knew we didn’t want traditional lives. We traveled around Europe and worked there. We worked and lived in Israel. We were very adventurous.”
The next adventure was moving to Merrick.
As the son of a shopkeeper who sold many of the same types of nonperishables that they sell at Tavlin today, Motty knew about running a market. As the son of an accomplished cook who had to nourish him and his seven siblings, he learned a lot about cooking. So the food business seemed natural.
“We wanted to express ourselves, so we started making quiches in the basement and catering,” Sarah says. “Then we decided to open the store.”
It started as one storefront in 1989. “I wanted to go into my father’s business, but he wasn’t here,” says Motty. “Also, he didn’t cook anything. I wanted to bring dishes we did in our home. So we slowly expanded.” Now occupying three storefronts with an ample kitchen (and three children and four grandchildren later), Tavlin anchors the community. Customers share the latest sorrows and joys, tell jokes, ask for their favorite items. The couple run marathons to raise awareness and funds for their favorite causes. They support community organizations.
Sharon Weissmann is a Bellmore resident and customer with multiple reasons to shop there. “I have been coming here for over 20 years,” she says as she picks up her favorites: tahini, eggplant tagine, garbanzo salad, baked falafel. “They have vegetarian, kosher; they do a lot of gluten-free. They are consistently respectful of people; they are kind and compassionate. The food is fresh and Motty is exceptional.” While kosher can mean different things to different people, customers should know that no meat products are prepared in their kitchen. The few meat items are brought from other purveyors.
I am working my way through their offerings slowly—these are premium hand-crafted products, and the prices are not astronomical, but do reflect the quality—and so far, the babaganoush, the soups—which you will not believe have no cream—and the mushroom borekas are my favorites. Next time I will try matbucha (roasted pepper, eggplant and garlic salad) and the Morrocan carrot salad, which Motty says are direct from his childhood.
“When we started the store we had a vision,” says Motty Azoulay. “We pride ourselves that we brought something new to the neighborhood.”
Tavlin is located at 2828 Merrick Road in Bellmore. The Meditteranean Food Market is open every day except Saturday.